Vuelta a Espana

Sepp Kuss on Vuelta a España opener: ‘I surprised myself a little bit’

Sepp Kuss insists team strategy is to win the Vuelta a España with one of their two captains.

Sepp Kuss (Jumbo-Visma) was hot out of the gate Tuesday at the Vuelta a España, setting a blistering pace to set up teammate and captain Primož Roglič for the stage win and race leader’s jersey.

Kuss, 26, hasn’t raced since the world championships but said he was pleasantly surprised at how well things went in the stage to the first-category Arrate summit to open a climb-heavy first week of the Spanish grand tour.

“Was it a surprise? A little bit. Normally if it’s a harder start to a stage race like this, I sometimes struggle a little bit, and it takes me a bit of time to get into the rhythm,” Kuss said before Wednesday’s start. “Before the race, I approached the days leading in a bit differently, and I actually felt a lot better than expected on the final climb.”

Kuss hung out in his European base in Andorra and did just enough training to stay sharp coming into the Vuelta. Following his spectacular Tour de France debut, with 15th overall, Kuss said it was relatively easy to stay focused on the Vuelta. Last year, Kuss was a key helper in Roglič’s overall victory, and he hopes to hit the replay button for the next three weeks.

Could Kuss have more room to roam in the 2020 Vuelta? Many have wondered if Kuss could develop into a grand tour leader, but the Coloradan downplayed his chances Tuesday by insisting that the team is going to rally around Roglič.

On Wednesday, Kuss revealed that the team’s GC strategy will be to try to keep as many Jumbo-Visma jerseys as high on the overall classification as possible. After doing the hard work to blow up the front group, Kuss eased across the line, finishing eighth at 10 seconds back. Teammates George Bennett was ninth at 40 seconds adrift, while co-captain Tom Dumoulin couldn’t match the searing pace, crossing the line 51 seconds adrift in 16th.

As a bonus for his hard work, Kuss earned the Vuelta’s best climber’s jersey, something he said he didn’t realize he’d won until he had crossed the line.

Kuss insisted again that the team will ride to protect Roglič and Dumoulin, with the larger goal that someone from the team comes home with overall victory.

“Yesterday was really explosive, and even if Tom lost a bit of time, it’s not a ton of time, there are so many mountains in this race that things can change a lot,” Kuss said. “For sure we want to keep as many of us up high on GC as possible.”

Last year, Kuss won a stage en route to helping Roglič synch the overall. With so many mountains in this Vuelta, expect to see Kuss flying high well into November.